This homey casserole was developed by Pierre Franey in 1991 for the 60-Minute Gourmet column. It is hearty sustenance that evokes memories of childhood and sweater weather. Its preparation is simple, but its flavors veer elegant. Sauté onions, celery, green peppers, and garlic. Add the meat, then oregano, basil, and tomatoes. Whisk together a quick Cheddar cheese bechamel that’s seasoned with cayenne and nutmeg then pour it on top. At the last minute, sprinkle a little Parmesan on top and slide it under a broiler to brown. Serve with crisp green salad and a hunk of French bread. Comfort food at its finest.
- 2 quarts water.
- 1 ½ cups elbow macaroni.
- One tablespoon olive oil.
- ¼ cup chopped celery.
- 1 cup chopped onions.
- ¼ cup chopped green pepper.
- Two teaspoons finely chopped garlic.
- 1 pound lean ground beef chuck or round steak.
- Freshly ground pepper to taste.
- One tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried).
- Two tablespoons chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley.
- ½ cup canned crushed tomatoes.
- Two tablespoons butter.
- 2 cups milk.
- two tablespoons flour.
- 2 cups cubed or shredded Cheddar cheese.
- Cayenne pepper to taste.
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg.
- two tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese.
- Salt to taste.
- Bring the water with salt to a boil.
- Add the macaroni; stir and simmer until tender, about 6 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain and rinse under cold water.
- In a skillet, heat the oil and add the onions, celery, green pepper, and garlic. Cook, stirring until wilted. Add the meat, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring until the meat loses its red color. Add the oregano, basil, and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the cooked macaroni. Blend well and set aside. Keep warm.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan, and stir in the flour with a wire whisk until well-blended. Add the milk, stirring rapidly, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
- Remove the sauce from the heat, and stir in the Cheddar cheese, cayenne, nutmeg, and more salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the cheese melts.
- Preheat broiler.
- Spoon the macaroni mixture into a baking dish measuring seven by ten by 2 1/2 inches. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the macaroni mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and place under the broiler (about 4 to 5 inches from the heat source) until it is hot, bubbling and lightly browned.
The rich flavor of this gorgeous dish hinges on you generous and attentive seasoning. Once the meat is cooked, its seasoning go-time. The cheese sauce requires the same attentiveness but varies depending on the sharpness of your cheddar, mine was mild and needed much more salt. Moreover, for the love of all things, forget the “2 Tbsp of grated Parmesan” and grate so that sucker is covered! After all, “this crisp, nutty blanket of parmesan is not necessary,” said no one ever.